NCF Nation: Travis Benjamin

We’ve already taken a look at what the recruiting needs were for the Atlantic Division. Let’s shift our attention to the Coastal Division. Here’s a look at where each school’s biggest holes will be in 2012 or are anticipated to be in the near future:

DUKE


Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.

Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.

GEORGIA TECH


Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.

Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.


MIAMI

Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.

Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.

Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.

Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.

NORTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.

Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.

Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.

Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.

VIRGINIA

Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.

Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.

Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.

Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.

Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.

Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.

Miami can still be a contender

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
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Miami can finally move on.

The biggest question of the offseason in the ACC -- who will play for the Hurricanes and who will not when Miami lines up against Maryland on Labor Day -- has been answered.

The NCAA has mandated that defensive lineman Olivier Vernon will sit out six games, while Ray-Ray Armstrong and tight end Dyron Dye will miss four games apiece. Quarterback Jacory Harris, Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo all must sit out one game.

Cornerbacks Brandon McGee and JoJo Nicolas, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, safety Vaughn Telemaque and linebacker Marcus Robinson have been cleared by the NCAA to play.

There are your 13 players whose eligibility was in question.

Now, not only can Miami prepare for Maryland this week confident in its starting lineup, it can also move forward knowing the majority of its roster will be intact for the most critical games of the season. This could have been a lot worse for the Canes, but they’ve got a capable starting quarterback in Stephen Morris, and the majority of top players will miss no more than the season opener. Maryland is Miami’s lone conference opponent in the first four weeks, so the Canes will almost be at full strength when they need to be the most -- for the Oct. 8 game at Virginia Tech.

Miami is still very much in the Coastal Division race.

The Canes’ season could have been over before it started, but this is a very manageable punishment for a team loaded with talent. It's not over yet -- the Hurricanes could still face more sanctions as the NCAA continues to investigate. There's no reason to believe this will be fully resolved faster than any of the other NCAA investigations, but as far as the impact will have on the field this season, Labor Day will be the worst of it.

The biggest hits will obviously come against the Terps, but mainly on the defensive side, as the offense will only be missing two starters. Defensively, Andrew Smith steps in for Vernon. It’s not NFL talent, but Smith is experienced and more than capable of handling the job. He played in 11 games last season and had three sacks. Marcus Robinson, a senior who played in 10 games last season, is another veteran who fills in at the other end spot. Nicolas moved from corner to safety to take over for Armstrong, but Nicolas has played safety the majority of his career anyway -- including 10 starts at the position last season.

The biggest drop off will be at linebacker, where Jordan Futch replaces Spence, but we’re only talking about one game.

No, this is not an ideal way for Al Golden to start his career at Miami, but so far, these suspensions don’t look like they’ll stand in the way of him making a case to finish his first season strong.
You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
Miami's running game was a strength on Saturday, and ACC fans should expect to see more of the same this fall as the Canes have one of the most talented and deepest groups of running backs in the ACC. Look for more short passes to the running backs this fall. About 3,000 fans were in attendance at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., to watch the two-hour session under first-year coach Al Golden:

Offensive highlights:
  • Five backs -- Mike James, Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson, Maurice Hagens and John Calhoun -- combined for 226 yards on 41 carries (5.5 yard per rush). James led all players with 124 total yards of offense (89 on the ground and 35 through the air) while Johnson and Miller finished with 94 and 67 total yards respectively.
  • Jacory Harris completed 14 of 21 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown.
  • Stephen Morris completed 7 of 13 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown.
  • Travis Benjamin had four catches for 49 yards and two carries for 26 yards.
Defensive highlights:
  • Senior linebacker Jordan Futch led the defense with nine total tackles and two sacks.
  • Sean Spence had eight tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
  • Junior defensive end Adewale Ojomo had the best day of any of the linemen with six tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
  • In the secondary, Vaughn Telemaque led the way with seven tackles and a pass deflection.
  • Travis Williams had seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack.
Quotable: "We have talent there; we have to find ways to get them the ball," Golden said of his running backs. "We have [offensive coordinator] Jedd [Fisch], who is really coaching the heck out of them and using them, and having the quarterbacks see them and know that they're part of the progression because it's easy yards. Obviously it's our job as coaches to put our best players in position to make plays and I think they did that today. ... Michael James is a really good football player ... I'm excited about him."

Canes release new depth chart

March, 22, 2011
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Miami has released its second depth chart of the spring, and the most noticeable change is at quarterback, where Jacory Harris has moved back to the No. 1 spot, followed by Stephen Morris and Spencer Whipple. (And Miami fans aren't sure whether to celebrate or panic.)

Running back Storm Johnson has moved up to the No. 1 spot, and LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin are once again the top receivers.

Defensively, redshirt freshman Travis Williams is in the top linebacker spot Ramon Buchanan used to occupy before he was suspended this week. Sophomore Eduardo Clements, who played primarily on special teams in 2010, has moved from running back to cornerback.

Strong safety Ray-Ray Armstrong is back at No. 1 after being limited at the beginning of spring ball but is now back to full participation. True freshman cornerback Thomas Finnie is apparently the real deal. It was surprising to see a true freshman in a starting role on the first spring depth chart, but he has maintained his hold on that spot. Linebacker Jordan Futch has moved from the middle to outside.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

Instant analysis: Ohio State-Miami

September, 11, 2010
9/11/10
7:19
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Quick thoughts from Ohio Stadium, where No. 2 Ohio State finished off a 36-24 win against No. 12 Miami.

How the game was won: Ohio State rode an extremely opportunistic defense and an offense that avoided major mistakes to pull away from Miami after falling behind 10-3. The Buckeyes picked off Jacory Harris four times and converted for 20 points. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor didn't have his best game throwing the ball, but he ran the ball extremely tough and made enough big throws. Aside from two major special teams gaffes, Ohio State played a solid game overall. The defense allowed yards but made play after play in its own end of the field.

Turning point: Miami still had a chance after halftime and mounted an impressive drive to begin the third quarter. After reaching the Ohio State 9-yard line, Harris threw a pass right to Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who rumbled 80 yards the other way. Pryor scored moments later and Ohio State led 33-17 instead of possibly being up by just two points.

What it means: Ohio State remains very much a part of the national title discussion and doesn't face a ranked opponent until Oct. 16, when it visits Wisconsin. The Buckeyes showed they can overcome mistakes and still beat a good Miami team rather convincingly. Miami still can't get over the hump against the nation's truly elite teams, especially on the road. Harris likely is out of the Heisman Trophy race.

Player of the game: Buckeyes senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa recorded two interceptions, his first picks since the 2008 season against USC. Wide receiver DeVier Posey merits a mention with four receptions for 105 yards, and safety C.J. Barnett made his presence known.

Stat of the game: Miami's first two touchdowns came on an 88-yard Lamar Miller kickoff return and a 79-yard Travis Benjamin punt return. It marked the first time in team history that Ohio State has allowed a punt return touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown in the same game.
Anytime Miami coach Randy Shannon needs to remind his players about the importance of consistency, he points to last season.

The Hurricanes had a similarly unforgiving start to September -- facing rival Florida State, Coastal Division foe Georgia Tech, and then a road trip to Virginia Tech. Miami had played surprisingly well in a 2-0 start and had once again captured the nation’s attention.

[+] EnlargeShannon
Fernando Medina/US PresswireRandy Shannon has worked on keeping his team focused on the next obstacle ahead.
And then it poured in Blacksburg, and Miami’s name was mud in a 31-7 loss to the Hokies.

Shannon said his team is mature enough this year to avoid similar mental pitfalls, including overlooking his first opponent, Florida A&M. The Canes can’t afford a letdown in what should be little more than a dress rehearsal as they travel to Ohio State in Week 2. The Hurricanes defeated the Rattlers 48-16 last season and have combined to outscore FAMU 355 to 49, dating back to 1980.

“From a lot of things we learned last season, I always refer back to last season,” Shannon said. “Our first three games I think we were very, very focused as a football team last season. Going and playing Virginia Tech, we kind of got away from where we needed to be at. I reminded the guys of that situation happening, that the more you are staying focused on what's ahead of you, don't look down the future, then you'll be OK.”

Shannon said the team has had “an unbelievable practice” in August, and he intentionally put the players in adverse situations to make sure he had their focus each day. He didn’t want them looking ahead to scrimmages or time off.

Receiver Travis Benjamin and other team leaders -- particularly offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, quarterback Jacory Harris, cornerback Brandon Harris and defensive end Allen Bailey -- have helped everyone take a one-game-at-a-time approach.

“If you don’t get past this game with a win, the next game won’t really be that important,” Brandon Harris said. “It won’t be nationally publicized and it won’t help your football team if you have a letdown and lose a game like this, so that’s big motivation. This team (Florida A&M) hung in there and gave it all they had for the first half of the football game (last year). They feel like they have a lot to prove. They feel like they should be wearing the uniform we’re wearing. They obviously want to go out and show everybody they’re just as capable of playing college football as we are.”

The question this year is whether or not Miami is capable of playing at a high level through the entire season.

ACC midseason report

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
10:19
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

For the second straight year, the ACC started with a thud but managed to pull itself back to respectability in the following weeks. Losses to FCS schools William & Mary and Richmond, coupled with Maryland's home loss to Middle Tennessee, raised eyebrows in September for all the wrong reasons. As we look at the conference now at the halfway point of the season, though, it has showed its fare share of redeemable qualities, most notably the push the Coastal Division has made on the national level. To have three teams ranked among the top 15 in the first BCS standings shows some separation is starting to occur in the conference. ACC fans and officials can take pride in the resurgence of Miami, the continued strength of Virginia Tech, and quick rise of Georgia Tech under coach Paul Johnson.
 
 Tim Steadman/Icon SMI
 North Carolina’s Robert Quinn has spent plenty of time in opposing teams’ backfields this season.


Of course, there is always room for improvement, and it starts with a 2-2 record against the Colonial Athletic Association. Overall, the ACC is 8-9 against opponents from the BCS conferences and the Mountain West. There was no shame in Virginia Tech’s loss to Alabama, but the Hokies didn’t show up when it counted most -- in the second half at Georgia Tech. Florida State and NC State are weighing the disappointing Atlantic Division down, and Duke is making a case for the best team in North Carolina right now. Teams that were expected to be better -- namely Florida State, NC State and North Carolina -- have instead looked like they’ve regressed. The biggest storylines were not the Hokies’ No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll, it was the behind-the-scenes coup in Tallahassee calling for the early retirement of coach Bobby Bowden, and the overwhelming support throughout the league for BC linebacker Mark Herzlich.

Now that every team in the conference has played at least six games, it’s time for a look back at the first half of the season. Here are the conference awards:

Offensive MVP: Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. His five 100-yard rushing performances eclipsed Darren Evans’ mark for the most by a Hokie freshman tailback in a season. He’s been named rookie of the week five times by the ACC, and even when he was sick and receiving IV fluids and missed practice time, Williams still rushed for 100 yards at Georgia Tech. He’s eighth in the country with 119.14 rushing yards per game.

Defensive MVP: UNC defensive end Robert Quinn. The sophomore has quickly made a name for himself as one of the best defensive ends in the ACC. He leads the conference and is seventh in the country with 11 tackles for a loss of 69 yards, and is tied for first with three forced fumbles and also has four quarterback hurries. He’s second in the ACC and seventh in the nation with seven sacks for 58 yards. Quinn had a career-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, at Georgia Tech. He’s a big reason why UNC has one of the top two defenses in the conference.

Biggest surprise: Boston College. Anyone who thought the Eagles would have won five games and been undefeated at home right now is either lying or the most star-crossed season-ticket holder out there. The Eagles lost their top two linebackers, their top two defensive tackles, their quarterback, their head coach and their offensive coordinator -- just to name a few. And yet here they are again -- in position to make a third straight trip to the ACC title game. Wow.

Biggest disappointment: The entire Atlantic Division. NC State, Maryland and Florida State are a combined 1-8 in conference play. If you saw that coming, leave for Vegas. Now. The Pack should have been better in Tom O’Brien’s third season, but even he said the team “regressed” the past two weeks. Maryland looks hapless and FSU has as many problems off the field as it has on it. Clemson played against Wake Forest like it should have been playing the past two or three years, but is still a three-loss team. And Wake Forest’s new goal is getting to a bowl game. No wonder the Eagles are soaring again.

Best game: Miami 38, Florida State 34. This was when the Seminoles still had hope, when FSU was still expected to win the Atlantic Division, and when one play might have changed their season. Trailing 34-31 with an ailing arm, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw a 40-yard pass over double coverage to Travis Benjamin that set up the game-winning touchdown with 1:53 remaining. With five seconds ticking off the clock, Christian Ponder threw to Jarmon Fortson in the end zone, and it was a controversial incomplete call that ended the game with the Canes on top.

Best coach: Frank Spaziani. His first smart move as head coach was to bring in 25-year-old quarterback Dave Shinskie, who has been on more than he has been off for the Eagles. His top linebacker, Herzlich, was diagnosed with cancer in May, and the only quarterback he had with any starting experience, Dominique Davis, decided to transfer. Spaziani inherited more problems than he did answers and yet he has the Eagles in contention to win the Atlantic Division for a third straight season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


MIAMI -- That deep 38-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin was reminiscent of how Miami started this season -- in jaw dropping fashion. Benjamin was wide open, and Jacory Harris made a perfect throw to him, putting the Hurricanes ahead 21-10.

The players are beating their chests now, and raising their arms to get the already-excited crowd even more riled up here in the third quarter. Harris has regrouped, and aside from a tipped pass and his two interceptions, he's only thrown one incompletion today.

This is how Miami caught the nation's attention in September -- with wins over ranked opponents, and an offense that utilized so many weapons opposing defenses couldn't lock in on any one player. They've made use of their tight ends, running backs and receivers tonight. Eight different Hurricanes had at least one reception in the first half.

It's Miami's third chance to beat a ranked opponent this season, and a 3-1 start in this grueling four-game stretch would be huge for this program. Right now, Miami's got the confidence it needs to hold onto this win. We'll see if it has the discipline to match.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


When Miami coach Randy Shannon took over the program three seasons ago, there were only about three or four scholarship receivers on the roster -- far below the usual eight to 10 most schools carry. So this offseason, when receivers coach Aubrey Hill faced the popular question, ‘You’ve got so many receivers, wouldn’t you rather just have one guy?’ his response was logical:

“I said, ‘If you’re at Christmas, would you rather have one toy, or as many toys as you can?”
 
 AP Photo/J. Pat Carter, File
 Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has plenty of options.


Now, after building depth with recruiting classes that included some of the elite talent in the country, and players who could contribute immediately, the Hurricanes’ toy box overfloweth.

Twelve different players have caught at least one pass for the No. 9-ranked Hurricanes heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 11 Virginia Tech. And six of them have at least five catches. Seven different players have scored touchdowns in wins over two ranked ACC opponents. Three different receivers have run a reverse. Miami returns nine of its top 10 leaders in all-purpose yards from 2008. Running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James have helped the Canes to a 7-2 record when they combine for at least 25 carries. And, of course, they’ve finally got a quarterback to lead them all in Jacory Harris.

“This Miami team we’re getting ready to play,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, “Wow.”

Receivers Travis Benjamin, Thearon Collier, Davon Johnson and Kendal Thompkins bring straight speed, quickness, elusiveness and big-play capabilities. Leonard Hankerson and Aldarius Johnson are talented possession players with great hands who move the chains. LaRon Byrd and Tommy Streeter can stretch the field deep with their speed and height. Cooper is elusive, while James is the power back, and Lee Chambers and Mike James provide dependable depth at the position. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Dedrick Epps have both given the offense a boost, while the offensive line makes it all possible.

 
 Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
 Graig Cooper has averaged 5.2 yards per carry so far.
“The opposing team can’t just focus on one player,” said Byrd. “You look at a lot of teams in the country, like Oklahoma State. They have Dez Bryant, so you have the defense lock on Dez Bryant and the offense is going to have a tough time. You look at Alabama, Julio Jones. They lock down on him and Alabama is going to have a tough time. You look at us, we have so many weapons you can’t just lock on one player. If you double up on Travis Benjamin, then Aldarius Johnson is going to have a big game. If you double up on him, then Hankerson is going to have a big game, and so forth and so forth.”

Miami’s versatility is not only in its athletes, but also in its playbook. The addition of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, coupled with the wide array of abilities, size and speed on the roster, has made Miami’s offense the total package and extremely difficult to defend.

“He’s just so creative, bringing so many different offenses and making it Miami’s offense,” Hill said. “He’s been one of the most creative offensive coordinators I’ve been around and knowing how to set-up plays, run and pass. That’s been really good for the whole coaching staff and also the players because they’re really, really excited to come into the meeting room to see what the mad scientist is creating next.”

In fact, some of the Canes have gotten into it so much some have tried to write their own plays on the board.

“Some have had consideration,” Hill said with a chuckle, “and some haven’t.”

Almost all of the players, though, have had their moments in the spotlight.

“We spread the wealth around to each guy,” Shannon said. “They know that they have to run their routes and everything full speed because they don’t ever know when Jacory is going to throw the football to them. That’s the difference in this team.

“The best thing about it is the competition in practice. You don’t have to worry about a guy getting too extreme as far as thinking he’s the guy who makes the offense run, or he’s the guy who makes the defense run. We’ve got depth at those positions to say, ‘You know what? You don’t want to work hard? OK, fine. We love you, and you’re part of this program, but we’re going to go with somebody else.’ That’s a big help.”

And it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses -- even ones as renowned as Virginia Tech's.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “They’re just right now, really a complete football team.”

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:

UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.

Georgia Tech running backs: Jonathan Dwyer, Roddy Jones, Anthony Allen, Marcus Wright -- so many players, only one football.

Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.

Virginia Tech running backs: Darren Evans and Ryan Williams are all the Hokies will need, but they've also got Josh Oglesby and Kenny Lewis Jr. as players they can count on.

Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.

Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.

Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.

Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.

Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There is no questioning the talent on Miami's roster. It's the intangibles that not even the staff can predict. They've got a new offense, a new defense, a new quarterback, and they're all trying to find some chemistry and get the program back to where they want it to be. They have the talent to do it.

Here's the thing, though. Miami's schedule simply doesn't allow the Canes any margin for error. There are no William & Marys to work out the kinks. The Miami Hurricanes have to play their best football in September, or it's going to be a long season.

Gut feeling? There will be no in-between for this team. Miami will either start the season 4-0 or 0-4.

The good news is first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's confidence oozes down to the players, and receivers coach Aubrey Hill said they're picking up the offense quickly. For such a young team, they're preparing the right way, and that's critical.

"Sometimes you have a lot of young kids who say Yeah, I want to win, but don't really do the little things to win and then you have to call them out on it," Hill said. "We haven't had to do that at this point. And also, in fairness to those guys, they are very competitive. When you learn a new offense, you have some things you have to correct, but when you come out the next day, you're not having to correct the same mistakes. So, that's a good sign."

Receiver LaRon Byrd is also a good sign. He's been studying a lot of game film. Not just any game film, though, vintage Miami film.

"You get the best of both worlds -- you've got a great offense you can learn from and you can learn from great cornerbacks who played on the 2001 team," Byrd said. "Not to say that last year was a downfall year, but at the same time it's not the Miami way. Like coach Shannon always preaches, when you look at great teams like that, from the five national championships, everybody around here expects to win at least 10 games a year. Every great program has their downfall, but hopefully we're going to rise again. I think we can get it started this year right here."

Byrd is one of many young players on Miami's roster growing into his reputation. So are players like Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson. They're a young team carrying expectations similar to the 2007 Virginia Tech team that had veterans like like Macho Harris, Xavier Adibi and Brandon Flowers.

"It's such an unknown," Hill said. "When you look at Virginia Tech over the last several years, teams that have won the ACC championship, what they've done, you know the players they had. There are so many new names on our team, but at the same time, if they're not new names, they're fairly young. But at the same time, our coaching staff feels very comfortable that even though we have young players, to a certain degree they're proven because they've already played."

The Canes circled the first game, and that's it. Everyone knows they're playing Florida State, and the players and coaches refuse to look past the Noles.

"Maybe if you're somewhere else, not necessarily within the ACC, maybe you wallow and say wow, man, this is a tough schedule," Hill said. "At the University of Miami ... we feel we can compete and play against anybody."

They can't afford to start the 2009 season believing anything less.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA -- Paul Johnson the myth-buster is at it again. He started this game the same way he did the season -- with a pass. Georgia Tech fans might remember the first play against Jacksonville State was a pass, and Johnson has tried all season to convince people his offense is more than "3 yards and a cloud of dust."

He reiterated that message in the first quarter with a few trick plays for some big yardage, but Miami's defense came up with the stops when it had to -- in the red zone -- and forced the Yellow Jackets into a field goal. There is big-play capability in this offense, and all it takes is one missed assignment to find out, which Miami has. The Jackets are moving the ball well, in large part because of Roddy Jones and Jonathan Dwyer. They're taking some pressure off quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

It's possible we might see more passing than usual in this game if it's an effort to keep Nesbitt from scrambling too much on that less-than-100 percent ankle. Besides, if the officials make a trend out of calling chop blocks every time they run the option, it could be a long night for Tech.

I was told Miami WR Travis Benjamin wasn't returning kicks, but he did, until he re-aggravated his ankle injury with just under six minutes left in the quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Talk about a bummer for a senior on senior night. It looks like defensive tackle Vance Walker's nagging ankle injury will keep him from starting on senior night, breaking a streak of 23 consecutive starts. Walker is dressed, but if he plays, it will only be because he guts it out. Senior Elris Anyaibe will make his first career start.

Between his ankle and quarterback Josh Nesbitt's, things do not look good for the Yellow Jackets, and the game hasn't even started yet. Here are a few other quick notes before kickoff:

  • Either senior Jahi Word-Daniels or true freshman Rashaad Reid will start at cornerback. That's a game-time decision.
  • Senior Andrew Smith will make his first career start at wide receiver in place of Correy Earls. He will also handle punt return duties.
  • Late arriving crowds aren't uncommon here, but a six-car accident on I-85 might have something to do with this one.
  • The temperature isn't unbearable. It's 48 degrees. I'm ok in my sweater, since I know you were all concerned.
  • Miami's Laron Byrd will start in place of Travis Benjamin at wide receiver. Benjamin will play, only in certain situations, and he won't return kicks. Thearon Collier will handle that.

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